Expert opinion carefully crafted to help senior leaders across the public sector to embrace complexity, find new ways of thinking and solve problems.

Celebrating International Women’s Day at IMPOWER

by | Mar 8, 2024 | Being IMPOWER | 0 comments

As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2024, it’s crucial to reflect on the progress that has been made in advancing gender equality in the workplace while recognising the ongoing challenges that women continue to face. This year’s theme of ‘Inspire Inclusion’ encourages everyone to recognise the unique perspectives and contributions of women from all walks of life.

At IMPOWER, we asked colleagues for the most pertinent themes to cover at our annual International Women’s Day (IWD) forum. This year’s hosts, Unsa Chaudri and Rachel McKenna, covered as many as possible through polls and discussion. As always, the discussion was rich and we ran out of time!

Despite some progress, we acknowledged that significant challenges and barriers to gender equality persist. Women continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions, face discrimination and bias, and bear the burden of unpaid and non-promotable work. International Women’s Day provides a platform to raise awareness of these issues and advocate for change.

Women in leadership positions

The number of female chief executives in the FTSE 350, according to the government-backed annual FTSE Women Leaders Review, was 15 in 2011. Today, that number has only risen to 21. There are only 10 companies led by female chief executives in the FTSE 100.

Women hold 42% of board positions at big UK firms and, of these, the proportion of minority ethnic women sitting on FTSE 150 boards is 8%. Women from a minority ethnic background are, on average, younger and have a shorter board tenure. Whilst the proportion of women holding board positions has increased, those positions lean more towards non-executive director roles rather than executive roles. A colleague shared the bias she received as the only female, and therefore only working mother, on a board of a previous company – shockingly only in 2019.

We also discussed the language used to describe female leaders. When women assert themselves they are ‘bossy’ yet a man would be described as ‘decisive’ and ‘assertive’. Women are frequently demonised and criticised, and featured in the media for reasons that wouldn’t be newsworthy if they were male.

Unique challenges faced by women

We shone a light on the unique challenges that women face in the workplace, including maternity penalties and experiencing menopause. Company policies such as paid parental leave, flexible work arrangements, and childcare support are essential to help address maternity penalties. The menopause experience however is an often-overlooked aspect of women’s health that can significantly impact their professional lives. It remains a taboo topic that is not only not well understood by men, but also by women who haven’t yet gone through the menopause. Employers need to foster open and inclusive conversations and implement policies that accommodate women’s needs.

Challenging traditional gender roles and stereotypes

Interestingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, women spend 200-250 extra hours on non-promotable work than men per year undertaking responsibilities that contribute to the smooth operation of the workplace, but go unnoticed when it comes to promotions or pay increases. Women are 50% more likely than men to volunteer for administrative tasks such as notetaking, clearing a meeting room, or helping new employees.

At IMPOWER, we recognised a shift in uptake of flexible working arrangements, including men taking time off for childcare, to support their partners as they return to work. This is important in continuing to challenge traditional gender roles and stereotypes, and creating opportunities for women to thrive and advance in their careers. Another positive step forward in closing the gender gap – which could take 131 years to close, according to the Global Gender Pay Gap Report.

There’s often a perception that fathers are on ‘babysitting duty’ as opposed to carrying out their role as a parent of looking after their children. The same language wouldn’t be used about a mother. Further, one colleague shared some remarks she received when collecting her child from school about her absence from those duties. The same comments wouldn’t be made about a men collecting his children – in fact, he would be praised for it. Worryingly, the comments were made by a child, which shows just how deeply embedded gender stereotypes are in society.

Men have a responsibility to be allies, volunteering and expressing their concerns about the division of work, career development opportunities, engage in knowledge sharing opportunities, and truly listen to concerns of their colleagues.

Today, we also themed our monthly ‘Lunchtime Listening Club’ around IWD 2024, and colleagues nominated their favourite songs written by female artists to shape the playlist. It’s a good one – so if you want to get an idea of who inspires colleagues at IMPOWER, feel free to have a listen!